Approve a regulated day-labor site application, or let the current unmanaged situation remain? That is the decision the Town Council expects to make this week as public testimony draws to a close.
Planning Commissioners already made their recommendation: deny the application because, in their opinion, the necessary land use conditions were not met.
Tuesday night was the first public hearing held by the Town Council to hear resident testimony on an application submitted by Project Hope and Harmony to create a regulated day-labor pick up site in town.
Currently residents looking for day work unofficially gather at the 7-Eleven on the corner of Alabama Drive and Elden Street in Herndon. Neighbors of the unofficial site have complained about trespassing, litter and other nuisance crimes and safety issues that they feel are associated with the site. Others have expressed concerns about entering the parking lot for fear workers will come up to their car seeking employment.
To alleviate these concerns as well as create a safe environment for laborers gathering for work, Project Hope and Harmony created its application to open a regulated site at the Herndon Police Station once vacated.
Project Hope and Harmony is a group comprised of Herndon residents, faith-based and nonprofit organizations that formed almost one year ago to create a better solution for Herndon's growing day-worker population.
AS OF 1 A.M., 145 people had signed up to speak, of which approximately 70 were heard. Each citizen was given three minutes before the council to speak, and anyone was allowed to offer testimony.
Before the hearing commenced, a small group of residents gathered in front of the Council Chambers, holding signs for or against the creation of a site. Compared to Planning Commission hearings, the turnout of protesters was significantly lower. Picketers for each side donned pins. Those for the site wore red hearts with the word "Tolerance" or "Tolerancia" written in the middle. Those against wore white stars with the words "Day Labor Site" in the middle of a circle with a line through it, written in red, white and blue markers. An organized group of Herndon and Loudoun citizens against the site wore red t-shirts, some with American flags on them, to show their unity.
Other residents waited to sign up to speak in a short winding line a few feet away in front of the Herndon Municipal Center. Those who could not fit in the council chambers for the hearing overflowed into additional rooms where the meeting was broadcast live via Herndon Community Television.
After hearing a staff report from Lisa Gilleran, senior planner for the town, Project Hope and Harmony representatives presented the application.
The group's presentation outlined conditions proposed by the commission and staff and answered council questions from an Aug. 11 work session.
Almost four-and-a-half hours of public testimony followed the presentation.
Residents in favor of a formal site say that concerns with activities at the unofficial site would be resolved with the creation of a regulated site.
A regulated site would allow more control over the behavior of workers, in addition to providing them with resources to help them better assimilate to United States.
"A regulated site will not only help the day laborers," said Barbara Glakas, Herndon resident during testimony, "but it will help the Town of Herndon itself. We have a perfect opportunity to regulate this opportunity now."
If a formal site is not created, the current situation will only get worse and the town will have no way to legally control it, according to those in favor of a formal site.
Those opposed to a regulated site, say its creation will negatively impact their quality of life. Concerns of trespassing through private property, loitering and other nuisance crimes and a decline in property values near the proposed site were the main reasons for opposition during the public hearing process.
"I have listened to the pros and cons for 10 years," said Richard Curran, Herndon resident, about the day labor site debate. "I don't think moving the day labor site to the police station will work."
Because of many issues, including potential overflow and legal issues regarding an anti-solicitation ordinance, among other things, Curran said he did not think the site would be a success.
Other residents said they were vehemently against the site because they did not feel taxpayer dollars should go toward assisting undocumented citizens.
THE PUBLIC HEARING concluded after almost seven hours of testimony from citizens and the applicant. A second hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. to hear additional comment from residents. If testimony continues late into Wednesday night, Mayor Michael O'Reilly said the council will determine if they want to defer the meeting until Thursday night. The council is scheduled to vote after hearing all public testimony. Meeting dates and times will be posted on the town's Web site at www.herndon-va.gov under the "What's New" link.